Military

"Q" gadgets from WWII up for auction

An RAF uniform button that conceals a compass is one of the items up for auction
An RAF uniform button that conceals a compass is one of the items up for auction
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An escape kit for POWs
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An escape kit for POWs
Escape kit folded
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Escape kit folded
An assassination spike for hiding in a jacket lapel
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An assassination spike for hiding in a jacket lapel
A watch concealing a hidden microphone
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A watch concealing a hidden microphone
Back of the microphone watch
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Back of the microphone watch
Detail of the microphone watch
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Detail of the microphone watch
A button compass used by spies and escaped POWs
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A button compass used by spies and escaped POWs
An RAF uniform button that conceals a compass is one of the items up for auction
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An RAF uniform button that conceals a compass is one of the items up for auction
A commando garrote wire
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A commando garrote wire
This key unscrews to reveal a secret compartment
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This key unscrews to reveal a secret compartment
Key opened, revealing a secret compartment
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Key opened, revealing a secret compartment
A number of the items included in the auction, such as the fountain pen, were assassination weapons
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A number of the items included in the auction, such as the fountain pen, were assassination weapons
This RAF uniform button unscrews to reveal a button compass
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This RAF uniform button unscrews to reveal a button compass
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A fountain pen concealing a dagger
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A fountain pen concealing a dagger

James Bond's gadgets may seem far-fetched, but they do have a basis in fact as an auction in Kent, UK shows. C & T Auctioneers is running an online auction through February 14 that includes a collection of authentic "Q" gadgets from the Second World War and beyond that were used by spies behind enemy lines and to help Allied POWs escape and evade capture.

During the Second World War, Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE) was tasked by Prime Minister Winston Churchill to "set Europe ablaze" by dropping agents behind Axis lines to carry out espionage and sabotage as well as coordinating resistance movements. But they didn't go unarmed.

Thanks to Charles Fraser-Smith (Ian Fleming's inspiration for the character Q), SOE agents were equipped with gadgets to help them in their clandestine work. At the C&T auction, five of the eight items on sale were made for the SOE.

SOE Agents Assassination Pen Dagger

A fountain pen concealing a dagger
A fountain pen concealing a dagger

One favorite spy gadget was the innocent and ubiquitous fountain pen, which could be used as a hiding place for maps or compasses, converted into dart guns to harass enemy soldiers and, in this case, to conceal a 3-in (7.6-cm) steel blade. Used for both assassination and sabotage by agents and resistance fighters, some versions could even double as a real pen.

Auctioneer's estimate: £300 - £500 (US$375 - $625)

Commando Garrote Wire

A commando garrote wire
A commando garrote wire

This wicked coil of wire resembles the pocket saws sold in modern camping shops, but this is a specially tempered steel with nasty cutting edges for strangling and cutting throats. It was carried by commandos and agents to quickly and silently take out enemy soldiers and other targets.

Auctioneer's estimate: £60 - £100 (US$75 - $125)

Assassination Lapel Spike

An assassination spike for hiding in a jacket lapel
An assassination spike for hiding in a jacket lapel

Another frighteningly utilitarian item, this 3.75-in (9.5-cm) blued steel spike was hidden in a jacket lapel until needed to silence enemy guards or slash tires.

Auctioneer's estimate: £60 - £100 (US$75 - $125)

Concealment Key

Key opened, revealing a secret compartment
Key opened, revealing a secret compartment

This seemingly more innocent item is an iron key that unscrews to reveal an inner compartment, which could be used to carry secret messages, a compass, or a dose of poison.

Auctioneer's estimate: £100 - £200 (US$125 - $250)

Escape Utility Knife

An escape kit for POWs
An escape kit for POWs

As its name suggests, this rare item is a utility knife designed to help agents escape capture thanks to an array of tools, such as two hacksaw blades, two knife blades – a small one for slashing tires and a larger general purpose blade – and a pair of wire cutters.

Auctioneer's estimate: £500 - £1,000 (US$625 - $1,250)

To aid Allied POWs escape the enemy and return to friendly territory, the SOE also joined forces with the secret MI9 office to produce gadgets that could be as much use to the escapee as to the spy. These ranged from uniforms that could be quickly converted into civilian suits, silk handkerchiefs that had invisible maps printed on them, and special razor blades that could be turned into radio receivers. The C&T sale includes,

Royal Air Force Button Compass

A button compass used by spies and escaped POWs
A button compass used by spies and escaped POWs

These tiny, easy to hide compasses were manufactured in quantity and were standard equipment in escape kits. These two examples are of a basic design and feature blackened brass casings.

Auctioneer's estimate: £40 - £60 (US$50 - $75)

Royal Air Force Tunic Button with Concealed Compass

This RAF uniform button unscrews to reveal a button compass
This RAF uniform button unscrews to reveal a button compass

A more elaborate version was this RAF uniform button that unscrews to reveal a button compass in case an airman needed to bail out over enemy territory and navigate their way through enemy territory.

Auctioneer's estimate: £80 - £120 (US$100 - $150)

Protona Microphone Spy Watch Recorder

Detail of the microphone watch
Detail of the microphone watch

The final item is post war, but is much more like something Q would issue. It's a Protana microphone watch that was manufactured by Minifon. Used by various secret services, the watch was connected to a miniature wire recorder strapped to the agent's waist. The Protona is notorious because the CIA lost an agent in Moscow 1977 when the KGB noticed he was wearing two watches.

Auctioneer's estimate: £100 - £150 (US$125 - $190)

"Money is not the concern," said the anonymous seller in an interview with the BBC. "I would like to think they will go to a collector who will cherish them as much as I have over the years. I have had the pleasure of owning them and feel it is time that another collector or museum has the opportunity."

Source: C & T Auctioneers

2 comments
StWils
The story of Sir William Stevenson, (see A Man Named Intrepid), is the last truly great WWII stories yet to be told on a movie scale such as Saving Private Ryan or A Bridge Too Far. Bill Stevenson's effort to establish, fund & drive forward his private-citizen British Security Coordinating Committee started the work that enabled America to catch up withe the Office of Strategic Services, (the forerunner of post war CIA), provided the ground work for MI5 & MI6, the establishment of GCHQ at Bletchley Park, and as the war actually got going, Special Operations Executive. As the war moved on two Czech volunteers were trained at a secret camp outside the then small town of Guelph, Ontario by Canadian, British, and American agents, supplemented with skilled scene builders from Hollywood to train on a set that exactly showed the route used by Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler's literal golden boy and chosen successor. Assassinating Heydrich showed Hitler and his henchmen that we can reach out and get you. Killing Heydrich changed the focus of Hitler and his senior staff for the remainder of the war. This suicide mission and many other missions enabled the Grand Alliance to prevail in a war the very nearly did not go our way. The tools described above are not toys but are some of the tools needed to save the modern world. In general these stories have been unknown and intentionally obscured by the Official Secrets Act for security reasons since the advent of WWII. Sir William Stevenson and his biography deserves to have it's day in the sun now that so much time has passed. Sometime in the 50's a colleague of Sir William, a Royal Navy Commander named Ian Flemming, by then a writer of some significance, wrote that his favourite character, James Bond was a highly theatrical version of a spy. But, that Bill Stevenson was the real thing. The shown collection of tools of the trade are some of the known necessary tools of that trade.
kellory
Very cool. More hidden escape gear can be found with a google search for prisoners of war+monopoly. Very interesting story. I love hidden gadgets like this.